By Julia R. Arévalo
Madrid, Mar 12 (efe-epa).- Spanish authorities on Thursday announced a 4.2-billion-euro ($4.7-billion) plan to bolster healthcare services and mitigate Covid-19’s impact on tourism and other key economic sectors.
They also urged people to exercise discipline and carefully heed the measures recommended for containing the epidemic.
“This isn’t a vacation we have right now. It’s a crisis, it’s a pandemic,” Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida said in a message to capital residents and tourists, who have been taking advantage of this week’s pleasant weather and visiting parks and gardens.
The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Spain rose to almost 3,100 on Thursday, while the total number of deaths there has climbed to 86. In response, 10 Spanish regions nationwide have closed schools and canceled large-scale cultural activities, while soccer authorities have decided to suspend all LaLiga matches.
The Madrid region is one of the three focal points of the disease identified by Spanish health authorities and currently is the part of the country with the highest number of confirmed cases – around 1,400.
Authorities, however, remain confident they can avoid a total lockdown of the Community of Madrid, home to nearly 6.7 million people.
Equality Minister Irene Montero on Thursday was confirmed as one of the positive cases, leading to her husband, second deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, being placed in quarantine and the remaining members of Spain’s government and royal family being tested for the novel coronavirus.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Thursday headed up an extraordinary reduced-member Cabinet meeting and later spoke via video-conference to reporters to unveil an initial packet of measures aimed at lessening the impact of the health and economic emergency.
The first measure involves a transfer of 2.8 billion euros from the federal government to bolster health services in the Spanish regions, which have responsibility for healthcare under the country’s decentralized system.
An additional 1 billion euros will be transferred to the regions for high-priority health interventions.
Sanchez announced that a total of 410,000 face masks are being urgently distributed, 130,000 of them in Madrid, and that the government will guarantee the supply of pharmaceutical products and protective gear at affordable prices, establishing price controls if necessary.
Additionally, tax payments owed by Spain’s small and medium enterprises will be postponed for six months, a measure that Sanchez said will inject 14 billion euros of liquidity into the economy.
The prime minister also announced an additional 400-million-euro line of credit for the tourism sector, which is the engine of Spain’s economy and, like the transportation industry, has “already suffered the effects of the emergency.”
“(Economic) activity will resume when the disease has run its course,” Sanchez said, adding that the measures announced thus far “will not be the only ones.”
“Our country, like the rest of the world, is enduring an unprecedented health emergency,” the prime minister said, reiterating all the social-distancing and hygienic precautions recommended by experts to control the pandemic.
“If we want to defeat the virus as soon as possible, it’s essential that we act responsibly and with social discipline,” Sanchez said. “Every citizen must take care of themselves so as to take care of others.”
“Each and every one of us can do something very important for others.”
Even though that same message is being broadcast on television networks, TV footage shows parks and gardens filled with people and especially children and the elderly – segments of the population that have not been convinced to stay home by the closure of schools, recreational centers, museums and cultural centers.
The highest mortality rates from Covid-19 have been seen among people 70 years and over, while young people thus far have been spared from severe disease but play a key role in spreading this coronavirus.